Living life as it comes, Living the Writing Life, What writing's all about

Bodice WHAT? Or… What’s a bodice?

 

Unless you’re a dressmaker or the author of even one romance novel you probably haven’t even heard of a bodice. Miriam Webster Dictionary meaning: Bodice—the upper part of a woman’s dress. Oh, yeah, another class of citizens knows, too, all about bodices, and they, like others of limited intelligence—specifically, certain truck drivers and too many fourteen-year-old boys—believe they were put on earth to be ripped.

Truck driver, you say? What would a truck driver know about that? Apparently a great deal. An editor who shall remain nameless, formerly with Bantam Books back in the day, explained it this way. “When truck drivers come to the warehouse to pick up a shipment of books most of the boxes have a cover pasted to the box. They typically looked for books with nursing-mother bosoms in low-cut gowns.” Why? Because they liked them. Little boys, weaned too soon, grown up to be truck drivers, actually drove the market when it became clear they were the ones choosing the books (well, the covers, because most of them could probably only read at 3rd grade level if that). Those were the books that went flying off the warehouse shelves, case after case, truckload after truckload, to the retail stores. Naturally, publishing houses’ art departments took note of what books were being shipped out most often and by golly, there went the titty-books like it was a fire-sale! “Hey!” they cried. “We’re on to a good thing! Let’s dress all the heroines in period costumes with low-cut gowns and put them on the decks of pirate ships. Doesn’t matter if there’s a pirate or a ship or the story takes place in modern-day Brooklyn or Tulalip. Historical cover with big bosoms sell. If it works, don’t fix it!”

As a former bookseller, I can attest to the phenomenon. Of course, I put what purported to be NYT Bestsellers front and center, and who stood there gawking, hoping against hope for a “costume malfunction”? Why, fourteen-year-old boys, of course, likely destined to be come truck drivers. These same little boys, in their fantasies, pictured themselves as theyoung guy only half-seen hero standing near the big-boobed cover girl. They envisioned themselves as ripping that dress right down the middle so they could create in their own little minds the sensual pleasure of tearing a woman’s dress off her chest so they could get at the goodies they knew were inside.

No, these male children who dreamed these secret dreams didn’t know the term “bodice”. That it came into popularity, I confess, is entirely my fault. “Get out of my store, you little creeps. I hate it when you stand there drooling down a cover model’s bodice.” Oops! Then I had to send them to the dictionary aisle to look up “bodice.” Alas, one day, a kid a little bit smarter than the others whined, “I wasn’t drooling, lady. I just want to rip her bodice right off her so I can touch those golden globes the guy beside her is looking down at. He’s gonna get to do it, so why can’t I? Gimme a chance! Gimme cleavage! I wanna rip bodices. Lots of them. All of them. If those guys get to do it, why shouldn’t I?”

I explained that ripping bodices was definitely not permitted. It could be seen as insulting, even worse, sexual harassment—maybe even leading to charges of the r-word I dared not utter lest it put even wilder ideas and fantasies into those little, scarcely developed young minds. But, again, alas and probably alack, as time went on, the term “bodice ripper” swept the world until everyone who ever wrote a story about a man and a woman falling into…er…love or some other convenient place, was accused of writing Bodice Rippers, even if the cover of the book had a posy or a decorous little Amish woman wearing a tiny white cap, if the author was a woman, she was surely writing “Bodice Rippers” aka “Trash.”

My own romance novels fall somewhere in between a historical and a sweet romance and only a couple of times did I have a cover that could have been given that insulting moniker and in the example below, the guy has almost as much cleavage as the woman, though she is well endowed. Oh, right. You don’t think it’s insulting. I get that. You’re just having fun with me. Teasing. You know I write stories about mature relationships between a consenting adult woman and an adult man of her choice. You know my books nearly always have children in then, or pets, oLWLr both, and they involve a couple sorting through options, making considered choices that will benefit not only themselves, but may, in some way, assist other women in taking a harder look at their own lives, deciding what’s right for them. Or what’s wrong.

Of course it’s insulting for you to call all romance novels, regardless of content “Bodice Rippers”, especially if you’ve never read even one. If you had, you’d likely have learned that bodices, in most cases, are gently unwrapped to reveal what those kids so longed to see. And that the “ripper” would be firmly smacked down if he did it any other way. It would be insulting. Just as my diatribe about truck drivers and fourteen-year-old boys is. I did that purely as an object lesson. I don’t refer to male oriented “thrillers” where the hero gets it on with a couple of different women before the end, “Dick Lit.” I could, but I don’t because that would be, well, offensive. Besides, I read a lot of those books and I’d be insulting my own intelligence if I were to label them with a “cutsie” little one-name-fits all, to make it easier for those who’ve never read them to simply brush them off as trash not worth their time.

Give it up, guys, love and romance are here to stay. Just like dicks.

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Living life as it comes

Father’s Day

The chorus of Murray McLaughlin’s The Farmer’s Song, “Straw hat and old dirty hankies, mopping a face like a shoe…” has always reminded me of my dad. He wasn’t a farmer. He didn’t have a “face like a shoe” but he always carried a hankie in the back pocket of his jeans. When a weepy little girl said, “Daddy, can I use your hankie?” it was unfailingly available. I don’t know how he managed it, but somehow he could produce a cleanish corner to mop a teary face and wipe a snotty little nose.

He did wear a straw hat on occasion and loved growing things. Had he lived in a different part of the world, he might well have been a farmer. Instead, he was a logger and wore a hardhat. At different times, he was also a fisherman who arose at 4 a.m. to take his salmon troller out to catch fish to sell so the family could buy the things he couldn’t grow. Sometimes, he’d take a daughter who wanted to go with him. Some of my most cherished hours were spent sitting beside him on the stern of an old boat, watching the trolling poles, listening for tinkling of little bells that signaled “fish on” then watching him work the gurdy to wind in the line and land the fish. Many an important question was asked during those mornings, and every one was answered completely and honestly.

We lived on a rocky shelf of land fifteen feet above high-tide mark. This land, he cleared mostly by hand, with a shovel and a mattock and a peavey, digging out roots, large rocks, stumps, and beating back the fast-growing brush of a temperate rainforest. He dug the soil to plant potatoes. Ran strings between pegs to mark even rows for shallow trenches to grow lettuce, radish, cabbage, carrots, swiss-chard, spinach. He hand-split eight-foot cedar poles for green beans to twine their way up. He strung nets for pea vines to climb. He spaded up beds for tomatoes, beets, and onions. With more hand-split cedar, he made racks for raspberries, loganberries, boysenberries. In odd corners where they’d fit, he grew gooseberry bushes, currant bushes, and fruit trees. His garden wasn’t large by flat-lander standards, but required an enormous amount of effort. He built chicken houses, woodsheds, work-shops and ran a forge to create metal objects required on his boat. He also used that shovel to dig a well in a clay bank and ran pipes to provide running water for the house and garden.

These were chores he took care of during the hours he wasn’t logging or fishing for a living. His other “day-off” activities included bucking large logs into blocks, carrying them up from the beach over his shoulder, splitting those blocks into chunks and stacking them to dry in the woodshed—always two years in advance—to keep the family warm. His firewood was also to cook the food, to preserve the harvest for winter use. Now and then, he took time to go out into the woods and bring home a deer, or carried a Coleman lantern to a beach on a winter night when the tide was low, dig clams for more protein.

Somehow, over the years of all this labor, he also constructed a big shed in which he built a boat from the keel up. A bigger boat, one he could take north where he could troll all summer for larger salmon, to earn more money to support his family.

I no longer lived there when he launched his new boat. I never sat on the stern beside him in the early morning, listening for the fish-on bells. He did wear a straw hat, though, and still carried a hankie. After he was gone, when my eyes filled and overflowed with tears at his absence, if I’d said, “Daddy, can I borrow your hankie?” I know it would have been there, with a small corner kept more-or-less clean for a sad little girl.

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Living life as it comes

My feet are cold

This is one of the strangest problems I’ve ever encountered. Literally and figuratively, I have cold feet. Traditionally, I didn’t even need socks in my ski-boots because my feet were always warm. Also, traditionally, when I started writing a book, I was excited, happy, interested, involved and all that good stuff but right now, though I’ve put on my sheepskin slippers (in June, already! Hmmph. Smarten up, weatherman), my toes want a hot water bottle. As for the writing, I started out excited, etc. but suddenly I’ve come to a dead halt less than halfway through the fourth book in a series. This is where the psychological cold feet come in. The Chronicles of Storn is a project that’s been on my mind off and on for more than twenty years. The first in the series published in 2014, the second and third, in 2015, and this one is supposed to be out later this year. But… when I finally finish it, will my writing life be over? Do I want it to be? Can I put these characters away like I have so many others, and move on, come up with new ideas? Frankly, at this moment, I’m scared to learn the answer.

Throughout the other three books, these people have survived quakes, floods, fires, and fought off vicious wildcats, not to mention horrendous avians that can pick up a cow and fly off with it. They’ve learned to adapt to some pretty severe conditions, and have overcome plenty of difficulties. Some have died in accidents. Some have simply wandered away and may, I suppose, wander back, but maybe not.The main protagonists have a goal. In fact, it could even be called a mission. I know what it is and want to see them and their troop fulfill it.

The trouble for me is they also have the unusual ability to remain at the same biological age as when they arrived on the planet, which means I’ve painted myself and my sheepskin slippers into a corner. They’ve been there, exploring and enduring for three hundred years and none of them has grown any older. I can’t seem to make these characters move on, grow within themselves, develop new ways of looking at life. I don’t even know if they should or could. If a man stalls biologically at the age of forty-five, is he going to keep on learning, keep on questioning, keep on wondering? Oh, right, sure I know a lot of men who have physically and chronologically lived forty-five years yet remain at the age of fourteen in certain situations, such as laughing like lunatics when another guy bashes his thumb with a hammer or falls overboard or loses his trunks when he dives off the high-board.

This doesn’t apply to women, of course. When they grow up, they grow up. Well, mostly. Apart from needing company when they go to the bathroom in a restaurant where they can talk privately and giggle about the men who are still mentally fourteen. None of the women in this particular book seem to feel really bad about not growing physically older. They kind of revel in it. They are between the ages of seventeen and forty, so of course they’re not going to complain about their physical appearance any more than the men do. These gals don’t have sagging boobs and butts. They don’t have wrinkles beyond smile- and squint-lines, but I would like them to begin to show some wisdom as they age. You know, stop giggling together.

I suspect since no one has sagging boobs or butts, I’m simply suffering from middle-book sag myself. (I shall not mention my own body parts here, except to say I cut my finger a couple of weeks ago and couldn’t write until the stitches came out.) Well, they’re out, and here I am at the keyboard again, and still not writing the damn book. I’d rather go swimming. But the water’s too cold even in this shallow little bay, even when it’s supposed to be summer, or darn close to it. What I’d really like to do is run away from home and–

Hey! Hold on here! Remember those characters who wandered away and may, or may not come wandering back? What if one or two more of the main protags do the running away from home thing? That would make the others start thinking things like, what did I do wrong? What did I say? How can I change to ensure this doesn’t happen again if I take up with someone else? Soul-searching’s a good way for a character to grow and change, even over a three-hundred-year period. If a woman’s been living with the same man for sixty or seventy years or even a hundred or two (heaven forfend!) so long as nothing on her sags, what’s to stop her from making a run for it? After all, they’ve shared the same experiences over and over and over again, so why not look farther afield while she can? And if a guy has been sleeping with the same woman for decades and decades and is still randy and rarin’ to go, wouldn’t he be happy for a change of pace? Son of a gun! I think my middle-book sag just got a boob-job and a tummy-tuck, not to mention a new lease on life. Later, folks. Joe Storn’s about to get the world knocked right out from under his size thirteen mukluks.

 

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Living the Writing Life, What writing's all about

Questions about anatomy

I’m currently reading a book whose title I will not reveal by an author who will also go unnamed. This book has given me an entirely different take on human anatomy.

Vertebrae Anatomy With Ciculatory System

For instance, a man (who was standing upright)  felt sweat well in his armpits then run down the trough of his spine to pool at the small of his back. That got me thinking. If sweat welled in my armpits, assuming it was going to be so extensive as to flow, I can only envision it running down my sides. This may be due to my being female. I do know men are built differently from women but is the difference so great? I can see this maybe happening if the man were lying on his back on a non-porous surface, like a plastic sheet on a level floor, but I’m firmly convinced all that liquid from his pits would somehow have to navigate uphill over some muscle ridges on his back prior to reaching “the trough” of his spine and continue its journey to pool at the small of his back.

A second anatomical anomaly had me seriously doubting my anatomy and physiology professors. In a scene, the man ran his hand over the woman’s belly button and her navel. Then, as the scene heated up, he kissed her belly button and her navel. I’ve always thought the two terms “belly button” and “navel” were interchangeable, but apparently not because the woman in question has one of each. At least one of each. I’m not finished the book and I agreed to review it, so I feel morally obliged to continue to the end. I may learn she has something else there in the middle of her abdominal plane.

Another one, not in the book I’m currently reading, but in one some time ago had a man lift the woman’s long, heavy locks, kiss the nape of her neck and her eyelids. Oh, right, maybe she was an alien and had her eyelids on her nape, but I didn’t get that impression from the rest of the novel.

This brings me to another concern: The use of unnecessary words. “The nape of her neck.” What other body part has a nape? Go ahead, tell me and I’ll shut up on the subject. Would we ever feel compelled to refer to “the eyebrows on her forehead”? I don’t think so, because that’s the only place humans have eyebrows. And what about people who shrug their shoulders? What else is actually shrugged by the vast majority of people? I’ve been known to write that a character shrugged one shoulder to suggest even less caring than shrugging two, but it’s still a shoulder that got shrugged. So when I want a character to shrug both, I just write “he shrugged,” and expect everyone to understand and form a mental image of two shoulders approaching ears then dropping. I’m also accustomed to reading about a character who “thinks to himself.” Hmm? Who else would he think to, I ask you, unless he’s a telepath capable of thinking to someone else?

But imagine the possibilities! If my belly button was an outie and I wanted an innie, I could have a plastic surgeon simply remove the belly button and replace it with the much neater navel. Or vice versa.Putting eyebrows on my kneecaps, letting them grow long and bushy, would certainly be helpful in protecting my patellae when kneeling to weed the garden. Wouldn’t it be cool to be telepathic and extremely handy to have eyes that could see behind? When I was raising children, they did believe I had eyes in the back of my head, but if I  could hide an extra pair of peepers behind a long fall of hair, I think I’d become a spy or a highly paid private detective. When I wanted to see if someone was following me, no more of this glancing into a conveniently placed plate-glass window and checking out the reflection of what was behind me. I’d simply toss my head, or sensuously flip my hair for a moment, or shrug one shoulder to displace a couple of locks so I could steal a glimpse to the rear. Then if someone was tailing me, I’d think to my partner about needing back-up, fast! Oh! The possibilities this would open up! The FBI would love (or hate) me. The CIA would hire (or shoot) me. The KGB… no, wait, they’ve been replaced.

But those are thoughts for another day. I still have to finish that book about the woman with both a belly button and a navel, then write a review. I can’t see my way out of it going either forward or backward, nor can I just shrug it off. Oy!

Another time I may feel moved to discuss the term “She threw up her hands.” What? I don’t remember her eating them. The very thought is enough to make me, well, throw up.

 

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What writing's all about

Ever Tried to Dig a Cavern?

 

As I mentioned on my website, www.judyggill.com, CAVERN, the 4th book

man walking out of a cave in The Chronicles of Storn is underway.

Right now, I’m finding it rough going, like trying to chisel it out of solid rock. This is odd, not to mention frustrating. After all, I know the characters in the book. I’ve worked with them in the three preceding novels, but they refuse to do what’s expected of them. Heck, some of them even get themselves killed. This leads Joe Storn, one time All Earth Space Fleet Captain, one time prisoner in a brig in Luna, one time space explorer taking a fast new drive to speed slower ships on their way (a task that took 150 years, mostly in cryostasis), and one time Admiral of a 7 ship fleet on a 1000 year cryostasis voyage, to doubt his ability to lead. Whew! I think I’ll breathe now. Can anyone tell me how to introduce Josiah Alexander Storn without a run-on sentence? Trouble is the man’s been around so long and done so many things, worn so many hats, sometimes I’d like to bump him off and start with a new hero. But nope, can’t do that. He has plans…

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Uncategorized, What writing's all about

And in the beginning…

A blank page is a scary thing. It’s also wonderful, like a baby just out of the womb, or a bag of unlabeled flower bulbs, or a handful of nasturtium seeds. All are filled with possibilities, with promise. What will the baby grow into? A mother, a father, a statesperson, a bank-robber, a learned scientist with a cure for cancer lurking in her brain, a murderer, or a storyteller eager to entrance the world? When I plant those bulbs will some come up and give me glorious shades of yellow and cream, like narcissus? Will there be sweet-scented freesias wafting their perfume across my lawn on a soft spring morning? Will they be white, or lavender, or pink or that clear, sunshine yellow only they can produce? Will it matter? Will some of those bulbs transform into slender, green and white striped leaves surrounding a stem sheathed in the small, purple blossoms of grape hyacinth? Or will the squirrels dig them up for food in the winter? Will the nasturtium seeds, as intriguingly unformed as the face of that newborn, produce long tendrils with deep green leaves, capable of climbing up to the front of my deck and spilling across the cedar planks, glowing in multiple variations of orange that catch the sunrise and toss it back to me? They could just as easily be all red or all gold, or all orange, short and hugging the ground within their foliage, deep and mysterious against the dark earth. Also, there’s the chance the Steller’s jays  will scratch them out and eat them.

With a blank page before me, I sat this morning trying to compose on my screen the first line, the first paragraph, the first scene of the fourth book in a series. I had a variety of characters, any of whom could take an action that would begin the story. An action that would help set a mood, pull me into a scene to draw me along in its wake, giving me dozens of options. Yet, what I’d mentally mapped out as I lay in bed seemed hollow, unimportant and worse, uninteresting. None of it captured me, so how could I ever hope to win the attention of a reader?

At that point, a miracle happened. I was back in a delivery suite of our local hospital, gazing in awe at the face and form of my firstborn grandchild. I touched her. I stroked her small face, let her wrap her fingers around my pinkie. I spoke to her. “Hello, Meggie. I’m your granny.”

And she smiled at me. No. It was not gas. That newborn baby smiled at me, acknowledging me, accepting me, believing in me. Believing in the promise I silently made to her while telling her who she was, who I was, what our relationship was going to be. And that it was going to be a forever-bond. At that moment, I had no idea what or who she might become. I didn’t know if she would awe me with her beauty, her perfection any more than she had at her moment of birth. Like sprouting bulbs, germinating seeds, she could become whatever fate held in store for her, and whatever that was, I was with her, part of her, and she was part of me.

And so it is with each new book. I have to introduce myself to it, and it to me. We, the characters and I, the events we share, the difficulties we find, the problems we solve all lie within our very personal relationship. They are mine. I am theirs. We are irrevocably linked as I’ve been with  my grandchildren–all three of them–from our moment of first meeting.  Wherever their stories take them, I will be with them, and they with me. A forever-bond, so I’d better make it a good one and try to keep the squirrels of self-doubt scared away, and the scratching toes Steller’s jays from clawing at my sense of accomplishment.

Once I had all that sorted out in my mind, I began writing:

Katya Andronovitch stood poised, arm raised, fist gripping a round rock. She kept her eyes on the six men ten meters distant, all facing away in a row. Her heart raced. A breeze rose, sifting through the men’s long hair, sending it streaming, brown, gold, black, and shades in between. The scent of summer-dried grass and autumn-tinted leaves filled the air. The sky hung in a blue dome overhead. Beside her, Joe Storn intoned “One!” Katya saw ropy, male back-muscles tense under bronzed skin. Head lifted. On “Two!” shoulders squared off, knees flexed, calves quivered. Each of the six took one pace forward. The world paused. Katya’s arm dropped. The round rock struck the gong-stone. A deep-throated bell-tone rang across the meadow, drowning out Joe’s “Three!”

 So there we go. I have Katya Andronovitch. I have Joe Storn. I have six other people, all male. She’s rung the gong-stone and something’s going to happen. I have a fair idea what it is, because after all, I’m wed to these characters. What I don’t yet know is exactly how events will pan out and who it will affect the most. I have questions. Why is Katya’s heart racing? Why are the men out front tensed up? Why do they all have long hair? What does the signal of the gong-stone signify? All that matters to me at this point is I have a newborn babe filled with possibilities, a bag of bulbs I’m about to plant, and handful of seeds I mean to cast across the ground so, come what may, they will all have a chance to grow, to answer my questions, to create new ones, and finally, in the end, give me if not a bouquet all tied up and pretty and perfect, at least a garden I can pick and choose from. This process is called “revision” and, for reasons I’ve yet to determine, is my favorite part of creating a story. In the time it took me to reread this short passage of under a thousand words, I’ve revised, edited, and changed things any number of times. And so it will go, for another seventy to ninety thousand words or more as I wade into the book, Caverns.  Writing, folks, is time-consuming, difficult, and I have so much fun chasing squirrels and running off mischievous jays, I can never, ever resist the urge.

via Search.

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Uncategorized

How fishing helped me learn to write

Years ago, when my father was a commercial salmon troller here on the southern BC coast, he’d anchor near a school of herring which swam neatly in a predictable circle around the boat. To keep my sister and me from getting in the way and probably being shoved overboard, he taught us how to jig for herring. A herring jig was a light line with lots of little hooks spaced about a foot apart, baited with bright strands of embroidery thread the herring thought were food. No, no one ever said herring were smart, but they were attracted to the colors, and thereby got hooked.

That’s when things got fun–and troublesome. When I  had a line full of small, flipping herring, the trick was to pull them in, hand over hand, and unhook each one carefully and slide it smoothly into the live-tank. Apparently live herring were much preferred by salmon, and a full tank of live bait was much preferred by Dad. But they had to stay alive–and healthy. Every herring going into the live-tank needed gentle treatment, so as not to disrupt the fish already there, swimming in a sedate circle, mimicking the main school they’d come from. If I tossed my new catch in instead of sneaking it in, it disturbed the others. Therefore, I had to be careful. Hah! “Judy” & “careful” did not belong in the same sentence. Each time my clumsy little eight-year-old fingers unhooked one herring, the other fish on the same line had to spend a few seconds flipping around on deck getting all excited. When inserted into the live-tank, they caused caused chaos. Not only that, when my hooks were all empty, the line lay in ugly snarls by my feet. Before I could put it back in the water, I had to untangle it. Most important, though, while untangling it, I quickly learned, was not to let the loose end with all those bright little hooks drop into the live-tank. There lay disaster. I too often caught fish already caught and in the tank.

This is where the writing comes in. Untangling is a necessary part of novel-writing and I’m glad I learned it while young. When I start a story, I usually have a whole bunch of little hooks decorated with bright threads hanging from a loose line. Call this my Plot Line.(I’m what’s known as a “Pantser” not a “Plotter”, hence my Plot Line is usually a loose and nebulous thing.) Hanging from my Plot Line are any number of brightly decorated little hooks. Call these Ideas or Scenes. Each one has to be captured and tamed and put into the Live-Tank where it should begin to blend neatly and seamlessly with the others already in the Live-Tank school. However, even with that Scene or Idea  sliding into place, there are eight or ten others flopping around on deck in an unruly manner, dangling from the Plot Line, and turning it into a sorry snarl.

It takes time and finesse to winkle each one out, place it in the Tank then go back for the next. Each time I let go of that line, whoops! there’s a new coil,  another mess that has to be tinkered with, a loose end needing to be weaved in and out through a series of loops, this way, that way, back and forth, until it can all be laid straight.While doing this, I’m also trying not to get stuck on the other hooks because if I do, I inadvertently jerk, which causes me to make new, unexpected loops in my Plot Line. Once those are untangled again, I’m sure to discover one or two of those shiny little Ideas and Scenes have splashed too vigorously into the Live-Tank, mucking up the neat circles the others have been swimming in.Then, there they all go, darting this way and that, interfering with the smooth pattern of the Tank. If I let the line slip by accident into the even tenor of the school, all the little fishies (Ideas and Scenes) get stirred up again, and before you know it, everything’s in coils and snarls all over again. But no one ever said Pantsers, or herring, are smart. We all go blindly after brightly colored bits of bait (Ideas) and then struggle to undo the tangles in our minds, AKA Live-Tanks. At least, as a fisherman’s kid who learned about knotted and looped lines, as well as escaped Ideas I have muscle-memory of how to straighten them out and get everything in the Live-Tank circling smoothly and coming out right in the end.Most of the time.

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